I wanted to write a little bit about the work I do in producing a radio drama.

Currently I’m working on an anthology series of 3 radio dramas from local writers in North Dublin. As it happens two of these productions are related to James Joyce and I’ve just finished production on two other radio play adaptations of James Joyce short stories. (You can hear a preview here)

All of these dramas are funded under the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s Sound and Vision scheme, which was established to provide funding in support of high quality programmes on Irish culture, heritage and experience, and programmes to improve adult literacy.

The St. James Rejoice Boarding House

The first play in the new 3 part anthology series is ‘The St. James Rejoice Boarding House’ by Jack Byrne. It is a semi-adaptation and interpretation of ‘The Boarding House‘ by James Joyce.

Director Declan goes over the scenes with the actors before the recording session.

Director Declan goes over the scenes with the actors before the recording session.

The Near FM Drama group actors have been busy rehearsing the play for a month or so now. We have a sort of in house drama group in the radio station comprised of actors from several local drama groups. They would primarily be coming from a stage acting background but many of them have been working on radio dramas with us for several years now and have gained a lot of experience in acting for radio.

The play has 5 main characters in total. I’d generally recommend keeping radio play casts as small as you can. If a scene in a radio play has a huge range of characters then it can be hard for a listener to keep track of which voice belongs to who. I like to ask writers to review their scripts and see if characters can be merged without harming the overall story. The script in this play works well as while it has 5 characters, rarely do you have more than 2 characters speaking in any given scene.

Setting Up

Microphones, Headphones, Mic Stands & XLR cables.

Microphones, Headphones, Mic Stands & XLR cables.

The radio drama recording equipment is separate to the radio stations ‘on-air’ equipment. We have a little cabinet located in the studio where we can neatly store all of the necessary equipment.

I record the radio dramas using a multi-track recording system. This means I’ll be able to isolate each actors voice in post production and play around with the levels and apply effects where needs be. We have the facility to record up to 8 different actors at the same time but as I’ve said keeping casts down makes for a easier time for the listener so a 4 mic set up is generally our maximum.

The 4 mic set up

The 4 mic set up

The mics are arranged in a manner to minimize bleed from the other actors. Each mic will pick up some amount of the other actors voices but arranging the mics back to back to each other in a circle like this cuts down on how much creeps over.

Samson Q7 Microphone with Pop Shield

Samson Q7 Microphone with Pop Shield

We’re currently using Samson Q7 microphones. This is an affordable dynamic vocal microphone. I’m hoping to upgrade to the superior Rode NT1-A later this year though.

Volume goes all the way up to 11!

Volume on this device actually goes all the way up to 11!

All 4 mics are set up in studio 2 and connected to studio 3. (Studio 1 is our on-air studio)

All the audio is recorded directly onto a PC. The 4 XLR lines are taken into the PC via a Presonus Firepod and the audio is sent to the PC over a Firewire cable (IEEE 1394).

I have a 5th mic plugged directly into the Firepod here in studio 3 which allows me to talk back to the actors in the studio 2.

The actors perform a scene

The actors perform a scene

Adobe Audition CS6

Adobe Audition CS6

The software I use for recording and post production is Adobe Audition CS6. This is the latest version in the Audtion series and is a big step up from previous versions. I’ve been working with this software since before it’s acquisition by Adobe when it was Cool Edit Pro so I’m very comfortable with using it.

You can see in the above screenshot that 3 actors voices each get their own track of audio. Some of the lines of dialogue are in the main characters head, with the voices broken into separate tracks like this I’ll have a much easier time of applying an echo type filter to the voices to give the impression that they are interior voices.

Taking notes as I go

Taking notes as I go

As we record I follow along with the script and make notes listing time indexes where I’ll have to make edits or cuts later on. This could range from where I might have heard a slight bang on the mic stand to an actor needing to repeat a line they didn’t get right the first time.

The play had been very well rehearsed in this case and recording was a very smooth process. The actors will have scripts in front of them on the day, so memorising the lines isn’t something the actors need to spend time on, but they do have to put in the rehearsal time in getting used to the dialogue.

That’s all I can think of for now. If you have any questions then get me on twitter @monkeyfudge

I’ll do a follow up post once I start the editing process and layering the sound effects.

Also you can find some of the previous radio dramas we’ve made here.